Though the state may be able to handle a government worker strike come Sept. 1, the real loss will come to American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) members as they will lose wages and other benefits, cautions the Illinois Policy Institute in a new report.
In its report, the group reviewed the current AFSCME contract and detailed some of the lavish perks state employees receive. It says that it is unfair to taxpayers given the state's dire fiscal condition that Illinois government workers receive the highest average pay in the nation.
Because Gov. Bruce Rauner and labor leaders haven't come to an agreement on contract terms, AFSCME has said it will strike Sept 1. Its contract with the state expired at the end of the fiscal year on June 30.
An analyst with Illinois Policy Institute said AFSCME is making extraordinary demands in negotiation talks.
“What is happening is a tug of war, with taxpayers hanging in the balance,” Mailee Smith, attorney and labor expert at the Illinois Policy Institute told the Record.
“On the one side is AFSCME, which is demanding $3 billion dollars more in wage and benefit increases. That is something the state cannot afford. And it will be the taxpayers who suffer.
"On the other side is Rauner, who is trying to bring union costs back in line with what taxpayers can afford. The day-to-day effect of the ongoing negotiations is that it puts pressure on residents to accept the idea that tax hikes are necessary and inevitable in order to pay for these costs of state government.”
Smith said that many reasons exist for the state's poor financial situation, but the power of unchecked government unions is a significant contributor.
“Until Gov. Bruce Rauner, no governor ever stood up to a union's unreasonable demands," she said. "Unions contribute to candidates who take office. Those elected officials are then the very people who 'negotiate' the contracts with the unions that paid to put them in office.
"It underscores one of the biggest problems with government-worker unions: they basically pay to hire their own bosses, who then return the favor.”
According to the report, AFSCME seeks more than $3 billion in higher wages and benefits. This includes raises from 11.5 to 29 percent.
Rauner has been negotiating with AFSCME for more than a year and has asked the group to accept a temporary salary freeze. In return, he is prepared to offer merit pay and incentive bonuses, which is more in line with what taxpayers can afford.
“If AFSCME strikes Sept. 1, the state will operate as usual,” Smith said. “State agencies have already started developing contingency plans to keep state operations running smoothly. And because peace officers and fire fighters are not allowed to strike under Illinois law, residents should have no safety concerns.
“The real question is what will happen to AFSCME members,” Smith said. “If AFSCME members decide to strike, it is estimated they will lose $8,000 a month in lost wages, additional health insurance contributions, and state pension contributions. If an AFSCME member decides to go to work, the union could fine or penalize the worker in some other way. In reality, it is AFSCME members who have the most to lose if AFSCME's leadership calls for a strike.”